When we mention preparing a will, many individuals assume the only significant point to consider is the distribution of their estate. Who should benefit? How much should they receive?

Of course this is vital, but the appointment of your executors should also be a key consideration.

A newspaper recently reported on an executor who was required to split the estate’s funds (£240,000) equally between two beneficiaries. Instead, he spent the funds on holidays, cars and other luxuries. He was given a chance to pay the money back but failed, and their inheritance is now all but spent.

Who should I appoint?

Individuals should always appoint executors who they can trust. There is no real need to appoint a professional executor, unless circumstances dictate this would be sensible (see below). Often a spouse, close family member or friend is an appropriate choice; particularly if they are already familiar with your assets and know you well enough to understand your wishes if anything unusual were to arise. Your executors will, in due course, need to liaise with your beneficiaries, so it is important that they are able to act fairly and impartially.

We would suggest appointing a minimum of two individuals. Technically you can appoint as many executors as you would like, but please note that only four executors can obtain probate (and, the more executors you appoint, the more signatures will be required!).

What if my executors find the probate process difficult?

In light of the above, you may decide to appoint non-professionals as executors. This does not prevent them seeking legal advice regarding their duties and how best to administer the estate. Your executors may wish to do this if they are in any doubt as to how your estate should be administered and/or if they lead busy lives themselves and would prefer that a solicitor guides them through the process. We often act for executors in this capacity and our work includes (but is not limited to):

  • Collecting in the deceased’s assets and settling debts;
  • Calculating the inheritance tax and liaising with H M Revenue & Customs;
  • Preparing the Executors’ Oath and applying for probate;
  • Distributing the assets in accordance with the terms of the will (or on intestacy);
  • Liaising with accountants regarding tax returns for the administration period; and
  • Preparing estate accounts.

What if my circumstances are quite complicated?

Some feel that appointing a professional executor is better suited to their circumstances. It is important to note that a professional executor will charge for his/her time, but it may be felt appropriate where, for example:

  • You feel there is no-one else who could sensibly fill the role;
  • There are warring / difficult family relations and a professional executor could be inserted as a counterbalance to the other executors;
  • You have a close relationship with your professional adviser and feel more confident if (s)he were to be part of the process; and/or
  • Your assets are particularly complex and may require additional thought outside the boundaries of the more ‘typical’ estate administration (for example, certain business interests, valuable paintings/chattels, royalties).

It is always worth remembering that you can always change your mind and appoint different executors if circumstances change. We would suggest revisiting your will periodically to ensure that it reflects your current wishes.